Monday, December 22, 2008

What Tyler, Dallas, and Corpus will mean for Smoke-Free Texas




When looking at factors that will contribute to passing a statewide smoke-free bill next session I don’t think you can overstate the importance of local communities going smoke-free and “paving the way” so to speak. Cities like Tyler, Dallas, and Corpus Christi have all passed comprehensive smoking ordinances since the Texas Legislature adjourned in May of 07. State lawmakers will return on January 13th and so will we in support of Smoke-Free Texas.

Local communities going smoke-free help a statewide movement in several key ways:

-Momentum
With two big cities going smoke-free including the second most populous in the state, we have great momentum heading into the legislative session. Just look at the effect Houston had when they went smoke-free just before the start of the 07 Session.

It was questionable whether a statewide smoke-free bill would even be filed. One strategy was to educate the public and lawmakers on the issue in 2007 and 2008 and then file legislation in 2009. Houston changed all of that. After their smoke-free ordinance passed not only was legislation filed, but it ended up garnering 60 co-authors getting passed out of committee, and getting passed by the House. It went on to pass a Senate committee before finally dying in the Senate before a vote could be taken.

-Socially Acceptable
When lots of cities go smoke-free, smoke-free laws become more socially acceptable and smoking indoors in public becomes less socially acceptable. Remember when you could smoke on airplanes?? Thankfully, that was outlawed years ago and now it would be unthinkable to light up in a plane.

Right now in many places it is still socially acceptable to smoke in bars and other worksites. One of our main obstacles is to change that "acceptability" factor.

-Less Drastic
Another way that cities going smoke-free will help our statewide effort is that it makes a statewide law less drastic. No lawmaker is in favor of “big government” or telling local communities what to do, so if only 5% of a state is smoke-free it will be tough to convince legislators to pass something that will cover the other 95%. Conversely, if 60-70% of a state is already covered it is easier to take a step that will cover everyone. Which brings me to my next point…..

-Unincorporated Areas
The more cities going smoke-free underscores the need for a statewide law because county governments can’t enact smoke-free laws. Simply put, this means that even if every city in the state goes smoke-free a significant amount of Texans will not be covered because many business fall outside of city limits in what is called “unincorporated areas”

The need for action by our state legislators is no more apparent than when discussing unincorporated areas. They are the only ones who can shore up the pockets of state that are unincorporated and unprotected.

-Level Playing Field
Another product of many cities going smoke-free is the appearance of an “un-level” playing field among business. Some cities have smoke-free laws while others do not. Some have strong comprehensive ordinances while others have less restrictive laws. As stated above unincorporated areas don’t have any smoke-free laws meaning a suburban community could be next door to a city with a strong ordinance.

What you have is a hodgepodge of different laws that can be confusing and hard to follow. We favor one simple law that will cover all worksites in the state.

Can you think of any other ways that Tyler, Dallas, and Corpus can help a statewide bill pass next year? Post any comments below....

Brian Bowser
Grassroots Coordinator
American Heart Association

Brian.Bowser@heart.org
512.433-7169

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